Ronald Acuna Injury and Unheralded Performers in MLB Spotlights

by Corey Pieper
Fantasy Baseball All-Stars

This week's MLB spotlight will dip into the unfortunate news of Ronald Acuna's injury and his possible replacement. Also I will focus on unheralded performers who have been pivotal for fantasy success.

There will be no prospect watch this edition of the spotlights article. The best recommendation would be Washington Nationals James Wood again. If you'd like to read about him, please go back to the last edition of this article.

Instead, this week's article will focus on unheralded performers and whether or not they can keep it up.  If an early-round pick returns value, that's what you expected. Those are not the picks that you help to win championships. It's the later picks that return early-round value that are most valuable.

Unfortunately, the earliest selection in nearly all fantasy drafts will not be returning fantasy value. There is also a section on Ronald Acuna Jr.'s injury and what the Atlanta Braves may do to try and replace him.

This week's article has six players who likely weren't drafted in many leagues. Yet, nearly months into the season each is returning top-70 value via the Razzball Player Rater. Continue reading this week's MLB spotlights article that focuses on six unheralded performers and the Acuna injury.

Ronald Acuna Injury & Unheralded Performers

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Ronald Acuna Jr. Injury

This one is tough to bring up, but Ronald Acuna Jr. suffered yet another torn ACL. This time, the injury was to his left knee. The last time he tore his ACL it was to the right knee. It's unfortunately another lost season for the young superstar. 

The purpose of this article is to look ahead though. Focusing on the injury would be looking at the past. The question is what changes in the Braves offense and how can fantasy managers take advantage of it?

First, Michael Harris should finally get an opportunity to bat leadoff. Fantasy managers have been yearning to see Harris in a more prominent lineup spot, but the quality of the Braves lineup has relegated him to the bottom third. He is off to a slow start with five home runs, eight stolen bases, and a 261 batting average. Remember, last season at the end of May he was hitting 174 and finished at 293 so he can get hot quickly and make a difference.

As for who replaces Acuna, it will likely be Adam Duvall. The slugger should become useful in five outfielder leagues. In only 92 games last season, he hit 21 home runs. The last time he played a full season was in 2021. It's easy to forget but he had 38 home runs that season and a National League-leading 113 RBI. He has hit home runs each of the last two days.

Unheralded Pitchers

Seth Lugo, SP, Kansas City Royals

Seth Lugo has had one ERA above four going back to 2018. You could assume he has been lucky, but he has only had one FIP above four during that period.

Last season, was Lugo's first season focusing on being a starting pitcher since 2017. He delivered a 3.57 ERA over 146 innings with just under a strikeout per inning. The Royals were comfortable enough with his performance to give him $30 million over the next two seasons. Even though the Royals were invested, for fantasy owners, he was still mostly an afterthought.

Those who selected Lugo later in their drafts have been handsomely rewarded. He leads all of baseball in wins (8), innings pitched (72.1), and ERA (1.74). He's certainly getting lucky with run prevention. He has stranded almost 90% of the baserunners against him which is second behind only Chicago Cubs' Shota Imanaga. That means that as good as Lugo has been so far, regression is coming.

The Royals are off to a surprising 34-20 start. If they are going to continue making a playoff push, Lugo is going to get as many innings as he can handle to help the team.

Luis Gil, SP, New York Yankees

It's hard to believe, but Luis Gil made his Major League debut in 2021. It was only a 29 inning debut, but he demonstrated his strikeout upside with 38 of them. The walks were also an issue in that debut.

After his promising rookie debut, Gil underwent Tommy John Surgery. He pitched four total major league innings in the past two seasons combined. He is fully recovered and finds himself on the unheralded performers list with his early performance.

Gil has pitched 55 innings and has a minuscule 2.11 ERA. He has a superb strikeout-to-walk ratio of 70 to 29. That walk rate is still a bit high, but he also leads all of baseball in hits allowed per nine innings. It's a similar blueprint to what Blake Snell did last season on his way to winning a Cy Young award.

On a per-inning basis, Gil has the stuff to maintain a low ERA with more strikeouts than innings pitched. That is where the questions are going to be with Gil. How many innings can he pitch this season? New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone recently indicated that there will be no innings limit on him. When Gerrit Cole returns, that could be an opportunity to lessen Gil's workload.

Tanner Houck, SP, Boston Red Sox

Tanner Houck has consistently been a good pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. The issue has always been his lack of innings. His three most effective seasons were all under 70 innings pitched. Last season, he pitched a new career-high with 106 innings.  It also was his worst season with career-worsts in ERA and WHIP.

Houck's main issue was too many home runs allowed. A 16% home run to flyball rate was always likely to regress. This season it has dipped to 2%. Most likely it will settle somewhere in the middle of the two extremes.

As it settles, Houck's current 1.90 ERA will rise. With as few baserunners as he is allowing, it should not rise substantially. That can be shown by his 2.20 FIP and 3.26 expected ERA. He would still settle in as a top-50 pitcher.

Unheralded Hitters

Jurickson Profar, OF, San Diego Padres

The San Diego Padres are a team built around stars-Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado, Xander Bogaerts, and Luis Arraez are supposed to be the stars on offense. It has been the unheralded performer Jurickson Profar who has led the team in OPS.

Profar is a former top prospect but that was over a decade ago. He has had some decent seasons, most notably back-to-back 20 home runs seasons in 2018 and 2019. With a 170 OPS+, this season has the makings of his best yet in what would be a very late post-hype breakout.

His statistics include seven home runs, 32 RBI, three stolen bases, and a 319 batting average. One-third of the way through the season, all those numbers are pacing towards new career highs. The average is the most surprising as he has a career 243 average. A 355 BABIP is boosting it, but there is still a beneficial average here.

Profar has claimed a prime lineup spot for the Padres. He has batted third between Tatis Jr. and Machado in the last eleven games. That should help him maintain his counting pace stats.

Brenton Doyle, OF, Colorado Rockies

Did you know that Brenton Doyle had 10 home runs and 22 stolen bases already last season? It was easy to forget because it came with an uninspiring 203 batting average and an extremely high 35% strikeout rate.

The speed was never in question, but it was always going to be a matter of reaching first base. Fantasy managers that took the chance late on improvement, have reaped the benefits. His strikeout rate has dropped to 28%. Considering he plays half of his games at Coors Field, you could always dream of a higher BABIP helping the average. That is what we've seen so far with a 369 BABIP helping to boost his average to 269.

His total statistical line through 50 games includes 35 runs scored, five home runs, 15 RBI, and 14 stolen bases. Considering that he is arguably the best defensive center fielder in the game, he is going to play for the Rockies every day. As such, he offers a skillset similar to what we've seen from St. Louis Cardinals middle infielder Tommy Edman the past few seasons. He'll provide 10-15 home runs, over 30 stolen bases, and a batting average near 250. That is a valuable asset to have on your roster.

Brice Turang, Milwaukee Brewers

Based on his minor league track record, this was the type of rookie season that fantasy managers were hoping for last season from Brice Turang. Then, his rookie season fell flat. He finished second worst in wRC+ among all batters with at least 400 plate appearances at 60 (Brenton Doyle was worst with a 43).

He has had five barrels all season with an average exit velocity of 89 miles per hour. Those indicators show that he is far from a slugger, but they are also better than last season. Where he has excelled has been in making contact. He has increased his zone contact % from 82% to 88%, making him one of the most difficult batters to strike out.

After starting the season batting consistently lower in the lineup, he now has batted leadoff 13 of the last 14 games.

Add in his speed and aggressive manager in Pat Murphy(the Brewers are third in baseball in stolen bases), and you can see the appeal for fantasy managers. A top-of-the-order bat who should be a plus contributor in runs, stolen bases, and average from the middle infield. Turang could finish with similar production to what we received from San Diego Padres' Ha-Seong Kim last season when he finished with 84 runs, 38 stolen bases, and a 260 average.

That's all of the spotlights.  Be sure to check out some of our players who have their stock rising or falling.

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